At a time of unprecedented challenges facing society, we need to develop strategies for collective innovation where we engage many diverse stakeholders to generate ideas, provide feedback, and co-create better, more inclusive outcomes. Design can no longer be seen as a solitary endeavor where a designer, through pure force of talent, improves a product or service, and then hands it off to a community of use.

ProtoLab combines research in design thinking, crowdsourcing, and decision making to create novel social technologies that motivate participation and organize people around complex problems in civics, healthcare, climate change, and education. Our research investigates the underlying social and cognitive mechanisms that impact how different groups— from local communities, to classrooms of students, to online crowds — tackle complex problems creatively and collaboratively.

Technology has not only transformed how we share information, but how we collaborate to solve complex problems. As part of our research process in the ProtoLab, we observe how groups appropriate technology to serve their goals, we conceptually model collaborative processes, and we design and test novel systems that explore opportunities for how people can work together. Ultimately, our research seeks to deepen our understanding of how the creative process works, to improve design practice for teams, and to teach design more effectively to larger audiences.


Prospective PhD students should apply either to the Cognitive Science PhD program or the Computer Science and Engineering program at UC San Diego. If you would like to work with Prof. Dow, make sure to mention him in your application. If you are a current UCSD PhD student, feel free to reach out to Prof. Dow.

ProtoLab typically has positions available for developers, visual designers, research assistants, and copy editors. We appreciate candidates that have a broad background in areas such as design, computer science, HCI, communication, visual arts, sociology, history, political science, environmental policy, and gender studies. Collaborators will gain the opportunity to work with expert HCI researchers and to creatively influence the direction of the research. Former student collaborators have earned spots in top graduate programs and have co-authored full research papers accepted to top-tier HCI conferences. Research positions can either be for credit (e.g., COGS 199) or for hourly pay (depending on available funding).

  • Developers

    Our lab currently seeks a developer with full stack development skills, including experience with front-end development (Javascript, React framework, Gatsby CMS, Responsive and Adaptive Design) and back-end development (Node.js, Express web framework, Database Systems, REST API). The ideal candidate would be someone who can work independently to develop research software, as well as, aid in setting up and debugging issues across multiple other projects. Candidates should submit a resume and a link to their personal GitHub repository in order to show examples of work that go beyond just class projects.

  • Visual Designer

    Our lab currently seeks a visual designer to create graphics, UI designs, and branding materials for a variety of small projects. The ideal candidate will have a strong visual aesthetic, and experience creating marketing materials—including posters, splash pages, and videos—with tools like Illustrator, InDesign, Figma, After Effects, and Premiere Pro. Candidates should submit a resume and a link to an online portfolio that illustrate your experience with visual media.

  • Civic Researchers

    Our lab currently seeks individuals to conduct independent research on various civic challenges in the San Diego region as part of the “Design for San Diego” (D4SD.org) initiative. Individuals in this role will be responsible for conducting online research, gathering resources, interviewing local civic leaders, and writing problem briefs. Candidates should submit a resume and a link to a portfolio that illustrates your experience with research and writing. Prior experience working with the people in a community to learn about their experience of a civic issue is preferred, though not necessary.

  • Copy Editors

    Our lab currently seeks writers and editors to help with various tasks that are part of the “Design for San Diego” (D4SD.org) initiative. The ideal candidate would be able to work independently to write and edit copy for the website and to monitor a discussion forum in order to provide community support. Candidates should submit a resume and a link to independent writing samples that illustrate your writing experience and style.

  • Data Scientists

    Our lab currently seeks a data scientist to analyze discussion data and the content of the ideas. An ideal candidate will have experience with one or more of the following topics: inferential statistics, text-mining, network analysis, and time-series data. Candidates should submit their resume, their Github profile, and a description of why their skills and perspective make them a strong addition to the team.

Undergrad research intern applications are open for Summer 2024! For full consideration, apply here by April 14, 2024.